As I write this, I’m looking forward to my recurring annual suitcase season. “Business travel,” my foot! I’ll take leave of beloved but chilly New England with its hunkered-down houses to land in Pasadena, where bungalows grow in the sun. Then on to Asheville and the Arts & Crafts Conference at the Grove Park Inn, which was furnished by Elbert Hubbard’s Roycrofters when it opened in 1913.
This thing I do—put words and images on paper—will explode into three dimensions. I’ll walk around in bungalow neighborhoods. I’ll catch a whiff of history in a room full of antiques. I’ll see what new work has been produced since last year. Surrounded by the Movement and by art and craft, I’ll be in it, not just reading about it. Even better, I’ll get to mingle with artists and craftspeople, who are a unique and philosophical bunch.
As for me, I can do a few things moderately well—write, cook, entertain the dog, make a living. But I cannot build furniture or paint on canvas. I can’t create a stained-glass window or design a house. My eighth-grade linoleum block print was received with the art teacher’s pity.
And so I deeply appreciate the people whose work fills the pages of this magazine—and who exhibit at those Arts & Crafts shows I attend. When I first encountered these folks, I was tongue-tied with awe. (Years later, I’m more relaxed, having enjoyed a cocktail or two with many of them.) I still feel an almost sensual pleasure when I’m surrounded by their work. A painstakingly finished tabouret with mortise-and-tenon joints leaves me feeling content, like a hunger satisfied. A good new building can elicit straight-up joy.
It’s not just that the work of Arts & Crafts is beautiful and beauty is good. It seems to me to be imbued with Idea and Spirit. If you’ve been at a fine show of contemporary work, or in the well-furnished home of a collector, you know what I mean.
To look at the wet clay or the rough-cut wood, to imagine the object and then apply acquired skills to create it . . . not a bad way to spend a life. Not easy, but not bad.